On this morning I was exploring the high plains of Wyoming. As I passed through Thermopolis I encountered a strong cold front, the leading edge of a colder air mass that is moving south. Cold fronts are notorious for their bad weather such as thunderstorms, also known as electrical storms. These storms often line up in a series, known as a squall line, with a series of downpour sites and lightning strikes. The majority of lightning strikes descend from the cloud base to the ground, called cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning, and pose the greatest threat to life and property since they terminate on or “strike” the earth. This was not a fast-moving front and a few squalls were formed with heavy rain. I wanted to make a photograph of this dramatic activity. It is impossible to predictably make a photo of lightning simply by actuating your shutter release when you see the lightning because your reaction time is too slow. The best way to ensure capturing a lightning strike is to use a lightning activated shutter trigger (LAST). These devices are designed to actuate the shutter automatically when any lightning strike occurs, eliminating the worries of missing a perfect shot.
I set up my tripod on a side road to get away from traffic and avoid having the road or any other unrelated distractions in the field of view. I chose a wide-angle zoom lens to capture the size and extent of the storm. A lightning strike was to be the exhibitionist, vying for attention. I wanted to capture a single strike with the bolt of light positioned over the largest squall, which I placed over one of the so-called power points in the composition, to help attract the eye with as much visual contrast as possible between the elements. The exposure was set while no lightning strike occured, assuring the frame would be properly exposed. When lightning did strike, its brightness would overwelm the dark cloud, rendering the lightning white. I made a number of images until I achieved this result. I chose not to include multiple strikes as there would be no true focal point. I processed the image as a monochrome (black and white) because the color in the scene was not only unnecessary to the composition but also would be a distraction. My intent was to direct the eye first to the single bolt then allow the eye to wander throughout the frame, directed by the radiating lines in the clouds and along the horizon.
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV; Canon EF 16-35mm @ 24mm; f/16 @ 1/15 sec, ISO 150; Gitzo tripod ; RRS BH-55; MIOPS Smart+